Liturgy in Italy

Lisa Fullam was in Trent recently for the large gathering of Catholic ethicists. Then she stayed on and attended a few liturgies – here’s an excerpt from her post over at Commonweal. Note that we’re making no bad jokes here about the Tridentine liturgy (she doesn’t say which cathedral she was in). Note also that the Francisans are the good guys here – kudos to them.

The two liturgies I attended were scandalously bad. In one city vespers in the Cathedral done carelessly, with no more reverence than one might expend when one flosses. They clearly don’t bother to practice. In a stunningly beautiful church, can’t the guys even PRETEND they want to be there, or that what they’re doing is important? What a missed opportunity to show off another of the Church’s treasures. And this is the cathedral–imagine what it’s like out on the hustings!

In another city, I ducked into a daily Mass. The presider led us quickly and tonelessly through vespers, then flowed seamlessly into an expressionless Eucharistic prayer. Never once made eye contact with anyone in the tiny, mostly elderly, almost all female congregation. Didn’t bother to preach, of course–that might have revealed engagement with what was going on. At the sign of peace, didn’t deign to greet anyone, and got going again as quick as he could. While he went on with the prayer, a little girl, about 6 or 7, walked around the entire chapel, shaking hands and smiling at every person in the place, maybe a dozen of us. God bless her–she was grace that day. The priest dispensed Eucharist mechanically, then dashed to the sacristy without a personal word. No wonder so few bother to attend. Might as well deconsecrate the joint and sell it to someone who cares about it, even if only for the art and the history, instead of pretending it’s a living church.

Ah, but today I find myself in Assisi. The Holy Spirit is alive here still, thanks to the little layman who preached to the birds. Walked into the basilica of St. Francis for free, where a lively, guitar-accompanied Mass was just wrapping up, (the congregation was singing!) and then joined the silent procession down past the saint’s tomb. Young people escaping the rain duck into alleyways and sing. Tourists snap photos–and then they pray. Yes, yes, there are all the tourist-trap appurtenances here that were present in the other churches–but God is here too. It remains a holy place. Thank you Francis. Thank you Clare.


  1. I had the same impression at some Masses I attended in the Vatican and elsewhere in Rome in January. We just got back from a week in Rome and Castel Gandolfo and I cannot say that my experience was like that this time. Perhaps it depends on the individual priest. We met some wonderful warm and welcoming clergy, Irish, American and Italian, at some of the more well known churches – they are a credit to the Church.

  2. I know there has to be one in every crowd, and this time it’s me, but in fact, St. Francis was ordained a deacon (in spite of his own protests). He did not remain a layman. This of course neither adds to nor detracts from that amazing place which is Assisi, as experienced by the author. Holy Francis and Holy Clare, pray for us.

  3. In my time in Italy I actually found Masses at the Vatican somewhat better than in most of the parishes, in the sense that there was some care in their execution. Of course this is not a testimony to how good the Masses in the Vatican are, but to how poor the Masses in the parishes are.

  4. So wait a minute. The first two examples seem like “low” Masses, and at least there is an attempt for a public recitation of the Office. You never see that in the U.S.

    The third example is a 1970s guitar Mass, which is the opposite of liturgy faithful to the rubrics.

    What am I missing here?

    1. You’re perhaps missing what’s wrong, I’m afraid: the ‘low’ Mass – I wonder if you’d care to point out where its rubrics are set out in the current Missal? – is inimical to Sacrosanctum Concilium, because its conduct is ordered so as to limit the possibility of actuosa participatio in all but the interior sense.

      a guitar Mass, which is the opposite of liturgy faithful to the rubrics.

      Once again I’d be keen to see where this is set out in the rubrics. You supplied the label 1970s yourself. Simply a term of abuse?

  5. … and then people based in Italy have the effrontery to complain about abuses when people celebrate the liturgy with some thought, care and imagination.

  6. Several years ago now I went with a parish celebrating its anniversary. Every where we went our priest had a songbook that we used and our singing attracted stares and compliments at St Paul outside the Wall, St Peter’s and in Assisi at the Tomb of Francis. The Liturgy there became a mult-language celebration as pilgrims from Portugal, Germany and Italy itself joined us. Beautiful experience of Church!

  7. From my experience, regular Sunday liturgies in Rome, outside of special celebrations, are very poor. I can remember attending a Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major. The presider was an elderly priest who had to have the Gospel book in his face in order to read. I thought to myself, this priest could really use a deacon during his celebrations. Low and behold, a deacon did show up. His only job was to bring consecrated hosts from the tabernacle to the altar at the fractio.

    Seems like the deacon was only a glorified altar server and his only job was a liturgical abuse! To bring hosts from the tabernacle for distribution. The “new” liturgy does not need reform, it simply needs to be celebrated, as is, with good planning, reverence, and in its fullness.

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